Archive | September, 2014

Cigar Spirits: A-Z Guide to Rye Whiskey (Part 1)

30 Sep 2014


Following our popular A-Z Guide to Bourbon (read part one and part two) we thought a similar guide was due for rye. Like bourbon, American rye has undergone a renaissance lately. A combination of the rise of cocktail culture and the renewed interest in fine whiskies means there is more, better rye available now than there has been in a long time.

To that end, here’s the Cliffs Notes version of our coverage of rye. In addition to a link to the full write-up, I’ve included my take on the defining characteristics of each whiskey. (Part one is today; come back tomorrow for part two.) And, of course, each article has a few recommended cigar pairings:

Angel’s Envy Finished Rye – Unlike any other rye around, Angel’s Envy took Indiana-distilled rye and finished it in rum barrels, which provides a tropical edge with pineapple, citrus, and graham cracker. Dangerously drinkable.

Bulleit Rye – Bulleit represents a bold, flavorful variety of the Indiana distillate at the right price ($25). Highly recommended combination of crisp apple, pepper, wood, rock sugar, and toffee flavors with a nice sweetness on the finish.

E.H. Taylor Jr. Rye – A relatively new bonded rye from Buffalo Trace/Sazerac, it features a rye-heavy mashbill with cloying flavors and a tasty combination of sweetness and spice.

George Dickel Rye – Long known for its Tennessee Whiskey, Dickel added this rye not long ago. It takes the ubiquitous Indiana rye but adds a twist in charcoal filtering. The result is an easy-sipping rye at an excellent $25 price point.

High West Double Rye! – An innovative blend of two ryes, one two years old and the other 16 years. The result is a feisty-ness upfront with surprising complexity underneath.

Hooker’s House Rye – Another finished rye, this one uses California Zinfandel barrels to produce subtle cherry notes along with mint, spice, and vanilla.

Jefferson’s Straight Rye – One of a trio of Canada-sourced 10-year ryes, it’s a tasty combination of floral notes, sweetness, and spice. A solid value but unfortunately production has been discontinued.

Knob Creek Rye – A powerful rye from Beam that shares many of the qualities that make Knob Creek Bourbon so popular: powerful yet smooth flavors with plenty of wood, sweetness, and spice.

Masterson’s Rye – Like Jefferson’s and WhistlePig, Masterson’s sourced some excellent rye from Canada. It has a drier element than the others but it also features some tremendous complexity.

Tomorrow you can see part two. And keep an eye out for more additions in our Cigar Spirits articles. Also, in the meantime, check out our general guide to pairing spirits with a cigar.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Rum

29 Sep 2014

Just like bourbon is my go-to cigar pairing in the colder months, rum is typically my libation of preference in the summer. Summer may be over, but this weekend had outstanding weather here in Chicago, and I used the sunshine as an opportunity to enjoy one of my favorite rums.

Ron Zacapa 23Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 is made in Guatemala, where it is blended from rum made from first-crush sugar cane juice—as opposed to molasses—and aged in oak barrels previously used for bourbon, sherries, and Pedro Ximénez wines. It employs the solera method, a system used regularly for fortified wine such as port and sherry.

Under the solera system, barrels of the oldest rum are regularly mixed with newer rum but never bottled completely. The result is a spirit with a mix of 6- to 23-year-old rum.

According to the back of the bottle, the solera process is “guided and repeated under the critical eye of the Master Blender until reaching the maturity and complexity of aromas and flavors that shape this unique premium rum.” Also key to the development of this rum is the high altitude (2,300 meters) at which it is aged in Guatemala. The low temperature and low levels of oxygen reportedly enable easier, more thorough blending.

Bottles of Centenario (750 ml., 80-proof) sell for around $50 apiece. The rum pours a dark mahogany with some reddish hues, and the nose is characterized by notes of vanilla, dried apricot, and dark chocolate. The texture is highly viscous, leaving long legs when swirled in the glass.

Served neat—which, I believe, is the only way to taste this rum—the rich, smooth flavors hit the palate with sweetness, banana, almond, oak, and cinnamon. The finish is long and balanced as it slowly transitions from intensity to subtle heat.

For quite some time, I’ve considered Zaya, Plantation, El Dorado 15, and Zacapa Centenario to be my favorite rums. Among the four, these days I’d give the slight edge to Zacapa, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Centenario is just so damn velvety and nicely balanced. And it’s dangerously easy to sip neat.

As far as cigars go, my suggestion is to pair Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 with a medium- to full-bodied cigar that doesn’t pack a lot of sweetness. Think dark, peppery spice. The Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Dirty Rat, for example, is an excellent complement. But I’m sure you’ll think of many other outstanding pairings.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Aurora 100 Años Robusto

28 Sep 2014

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”MF-La-Antiguedad-cg-sqla-aurora-100-anos-sq

La Aurora 100 Anos Robusto

Original 2003 Cien Años cigars aren’t easy to find these days. Fortunately, I have a few remaining from a box I purchased before they were re-released nearly a decade later. Made by La Aurora, the oldest cigar maker in the Dominican Republic celebrated 100 years in the cigar business with this Dominican puro, which sports an oily Corojo wrapper. The Robusto is a pleasant combination of bread, dry cedar, cream, and pepper. Despite the age, it still packs a punch with medium- to full-bodied flavors. Sometimes older cigars get dull with age, but this isn’t one of them. It’s still a flavorful, enjoyable cigar worth finding if you can. Just don’t count on the re-release being the same as the original.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: A.J. Fernandez Pinolero Maduro Toro

27 Sep 2014

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Pinolero Toro Maduro

Following my (very favorable) review of the Pinolero Maduro Toro (6 x 52) at the end of March, I wanted to see how six additional months in the humidor might change this cigar, which includes a Nicaraguan binder around filler tobaccos are part Nicaraguan Habano-seed and part proprietary. I found few noticeable changes, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The smoke still has a dense, sweet texture with flavors ranging from syrup and cocoa to espresso and brown sugar. I still think this is an excellent buy at about $8-9, but I’d say little is gained with short-term aging.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 401

26 Sep 2014

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post a mixed bag of quick cigar news and other items of interest. Below is our latest Friday Sampler.

Don Kiki1) On Monday, we lost a respected, beloved, and talented cigar maker. Henry “Kiki” Berger—known affectionately as “Don Kiki”—passed away from complications resulting from a recent heart attack. Berger was 56. He will be remembered for his many contributions to cigars—from establishing an operation in Estelí, to launching a company (now dissolved) with Mike Argenti called Berger & Argenti, to producing such brands as J.L. Salazar and Cupido. On a personal note, will always remember Berger for his Don Kiki brand, which is still sold through Cuban Crafters, a retailer based in Miami. These cigars from Berger’s Tabacalera Estelí—particularly the Criollo-wrapped Don Kiki Brown Label—were a major contributor to our introduction to premium tobacco. We can only echo the chorus of sincere condolences that so many in the industry have proclaimed this week. Our thoughts go out to Berger’s wife, Karen, and his children, José and Nicole.

2) Officials in Boulder—a Colorado city with a population of about 100,000—are eyeing a comprehensive outdoor smoking ban for the downtown business district. The aim is to criminalize those who are taking smoke breaks to escape the statewide indoor smoking ban that took effect in 2006. The city already implemented more restrictive measures than those required by the state when, in 2009, Boulder banned smoking in enclosed porches, balconies, patios, and within 15 feet of any building entrance. In addition to the proposed outdoor business district ban, a separate ordinance is expected to be introduced in the fall that would “ban smoking in city parks, on multi-use paths, and anywhere within 25 feet of public bus stops and libraries,” according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. Typical violators would face tickets of $100, but penalties are capped at $1,000 and 90 days in jail.

3) Inside the Industry: Prometheus has expanded its God of Fire Serie Aniversario line, made to celebrate the 10th year of the introduction of the Fuente-made super-premium cigar. Available in boxes of 10 with suggested retail prices ranging from $24 to $28 per cigar, the line now consists of three perfecto vitolas.

4) Deal of the Week: Famous Smoke Shop has a variety of coupons available ranging from free shipping or humidification solution to samplers or even free boxes. The coupons can be combined with sale items, or even constantly updating Cigar Monster deals.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo 5th Year Anniversary Limitada

25 Sep 2014

In my recent review of the Padrón Family Reserve No. 50 (Maduro), I wrote 2014 is a year with a few notable anniversaries. And, of course, such anniversaries are often accompanied by limited edition cigars.EPC-5th-Anni-Lim-sq

EPC-5th-Anni-LimOne milestone worth celebrating is the fifth anniversary of the founding of E.P. Carrillo Cigars, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s second cigar company. His first, El Credito, was sold to General Cigar in 1999 (long before CAO, Toraño, or Leccia Tobacco).

Ernesto gives the rundown about his fifth anniversary cigar in this video. Made at his Dominican Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. factory, the smoke (6.5 x 54) has a special Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper from the 7th priming that was purchased by EPC for a future project back in 2010 or 2011.

The binder is Nicaraguan Corojo ’99 and the filler is 100% Nicaraguan with tobaccos from all three major Nicaraguan growing regions: Estelí, Condega, and Jalapa. The cigar comes in 10-count boxes ($75-80 per box) and has double bands: the top band is an updated style of EPC’s traditional band (the same style is being used in the company’s new European market cigars) along with a second circular band highlighting the company’s five years.

Pre-light the cigar is surprisingly tame, with only damp earth and a hint of sweetness from the Sumatra wrapper. Once lit, however, the cigar is anything but subdued. There’s a fresh, almost minty element along with a more traditional combination of bread, baking spices, and hints of pepper. It’s a full-bodied cigar, although it settles into the medium-bodied spectrum in the final third.

What caught me off-guard about the EPC 5th Anniversary was the surprising strength that showed some real nicotine kick. (And I write this as someone who rarely even notices nicotine in a cigar.)

Only 30,000 EPC 5th Anniversary cigars will be made. That’s a shame because it characterizes the best of E.P. Carrillo: flavorful, complex, and affordable. At a time when many special limited edition cigars command double-digit prices, the E.P. Carrillo 5th Anniversary Limitada is the rare and limited, yet affordable, offering. That earns it a rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Flor Dominicana Factory Press Limitado (2013)

24 Sep 2014

Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana fame has never been shy about pushing the envelope when it comes to creating unique cigar formats. The Chisel shape is a case in point.

FPL 2013Another example is the Factory Press, a series that debuted in 2005 and is now available in six different iterations. Each release measures 6.25-6.5 inches long with ring gauges ranging from 54 to 60. Characterized by its extremely sharp box-press, La Flor Dominicana ships the cigars in the actual wooden press from the factory, which is Tabacalera La Flor S.A. in the Dominican Republic.

Two of the six Factory Press releases are deemed “Limitado” (2007 and 2013). For the 2013 Limitado, La Flor “aged and set aside the darkest Sumatra wrappers we could find,” according to the La Flor website. “Combined with a Nicaraguan binder and our estate-grown Dominican fillers, this cigar boasts a rich and powerful flavor worthy of its prestigious name.”

I picked up a 5-pack of Factory Press Limitados (the 2013 version) for $72.50, which comes to $14.50 per cigar. Normally, a cigar with a 60 ring gauge would be a turn-off for me, but in this regard the box press adds a lot of value. The rectangular-shaped cross-section fits in the mouth comfortably (when positioned horizontally, of course).

The cigar itself is as handsome as it is large. The oily wrapper has a beautiful, consistently dark color with virtually zero veins of any significance. The sweet pre-light notes include milk chocolate, earth, and coffee. And while the cap is a little rugged, it clips cleanly enough to yield a smooth cold draw.

After setting an even light, a medium-bodied profile of espresso, dark chocolate, and leather emerges. It’s complemented by a red pepper zing on the aftertaste. The smoke production is superb and the texture is chalky. The resting smoke is characterized by a creamy sweetness.

As the Factory Press Limitado winds its way into the second and final thirds, a cocoa sweetness becomes more apparent. It becomes clear that, contrary to La Flor Dominicana’s reputation, this is never going to be a spicy, peppery, full-bodied smoke; rather, it stakes its claim for a more mild-mannered balance.

As it does, the construction is solid, including a sturdy gray ash, smooth draw, and a burn line that’s imperfect but never requires any touch-ups.

La Flor says they made about 100,000 of these gordo-sized smokes, and there are still boxes and 5-packs available for purchase. While this is a fine cigar, I find it underwhelming at the $14.50 price point. Frankly, there are too many smokes in the $10 or less range that are superior. And that’s ultimately why I can’t award the 2013 rendition of the Factory Press Limitado a rating higher than three and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys